US officials failed to ask for monkeypox vaccine stocks to be put in vials in time for distribution, says report

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Top US health officials are being blamed for causing an inadvertent delay in the process of distributing vaccines for monkeypox that has set back the US campaign to vaccinate persons considered at risk of catching the virus.

A New York Times report published on Wednesday found that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had failed to act and submit an order for existing stockpiles of vaccines to be readied for distribution, a process that includes rebottling the vaccines in smaller vials. Because of the delay, the contractor chosen to complete the process is now tied up with other orders and will not be able to process the US’s stockpile for months.

The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website states that more injection-ready vaccines will be available “in the coming weeks and months” while acknowledging that a shortage currently exists. According to the Times, a second order of doses is not expected to be ready until October.

Meanwhile, more than 6,000 Americans have already reported cases of monkeypox. The disease is rarely fatal, but presents with debilitating symptoms including exhaustion, fever, muscle aches and unsightly rashes.

Federal officials told the Times that President Joe Biden is angered by the news of the shortage apparently caused by his own administration, which comes on the heels of a shortage of baby formula caused by a FDA-ordered recall that left the limited US supply in dire straits.

According to some, blame for the monkeypox jab shortage falls on the shoulders of officials at the top of HHS, including Secretary Xavier Beccerra, who they blame for not personally engaging with the issue.

A spokeswoman for the agency told the Times in response: “Our response has accelerated to meet evolving needs on the ground, and it will keep accelerating. We will use every lever possible to continue allocating doses ahead of timelines, as possible.”

Mr Becerra characterised the US response to monkeypox as strong, despite the shortage, in a press call last week in which he vowed that the US would “stay ahead” of the virus. The Washington Post and others reported on Thursday that he plans to soon declare a public health emergency.

Some experts believe that the number of cases reported in the US is significantly lower than the actual total, and believe that the emergency declaration will strengthen case reporting accuracy.

The Biden administration also continues to face calls from progressives to strengthen Covid guidance in schools and other public places given the continued persistence of the virus. On average, hundreds of Americans are reported dead from Covid every day.

Joe Biden himself remains in isolation following a Covid breakthrough infection that rebounded following his treatment with Paxlovid; his physician says he continues to suffer mild symptoms.